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How to create the ideal workspace for a multi-generational workforce

Nov 30, 2018 Workspace Design

Millennials are taking over the modern workforce while Baby Boomers remain reluctant to retire until they are debt free. So how do you balance this diverse workplace? And what can we learn from design that will encourage cross-generational collaboration?

By 2025, 75 per cent of the Australian workforce is going to be made up of Millennials.

That doesn’t necessarily translate to a Millennials only workplace, though, as more than 1.3 million Australian Baby Boomers (24 per cent) believe they will be working beyond their 75th birthday just to fund their retirement.

With one in five Boomers currently retiring with mortgage debt, many are opting to work on to ensure they have a comfortable retirement.

This creates an interesting dynamic in the workplace, with more younger Australians needing to work hand-in-hand with seniors. So how can you create an office design where both can thrive?

What do the different generations worry about?

To get a handle on the different generations in your workforce, it is important to know what their concerns in general are.

For millennials, trust is a major issue. Less than half of this generation believe business has a positive impact on society, plummeting from 72 per cent in 2017.

Only 39 per cent believe they will be better off than their parents while only 35 per cent believe they will be happier.

Stereotypes that millennials are better suited to Industry 4.0 technologies (robotics, Internet of Things etc) are wide of the mark as well. Only 45 per cent of millennials believe that Industry 4.0 will augment their job with most feeling unprepared.

Baby Boomers face their own stereotypes, cast as being expensive, difficult to manage, won’t learn new skills, resist change and aren’t up to date with new technology. It is important to remember these are just stereotypes, though.

These stereotypes are frustrating for this generation and make them fear for their future, either in their current position or in terms of finding new employment.

Boomers offer different attributes as well, as they are more likely to work overtime and longer hours and according to Monash University’s Department of Management they are are committed, hard working and career focused.

So while they may take a bit more time to take on new systems, Boomers possess work and life experience, skills and knowledge that other generations do not.

How workspace design can create better environments for all generations

The design of the workplace itself can be a huge help in embracing a multi-generational workforce.

For example, the times people are actually in the office may vary. Boomers tend to stick solid to the traditional nine-to-five, Monday to Friday workday while younger generations require more flexibility – especially with young families.

Almost 50 per cent of Australian employees work remotely for at least half of the week now, which means these generations will often have to communicate through digital platforms.

Doing away with traditional offices and cubicles and embracing shared workspaces, technology to allow for remote communication and collaboration spaces and meeting areas can assist in a workplace where different needs are required.

The desks themselves need to be considered as well. Millennials prefer to blur the lines between their home settings and work settings, with lots of personalisation, decorations and accessories typically found in a home. They like these elements to be fused with lots of technology to create a comfortable place to work.

Boomers, however, find these kind of desks to be uncomfortable. They like office structure with clear organisational and management boundaries. To cater to both generations, multi-functional desks can be purchased to suit the needs of the individual. Flexible desks can be reshaped to invite collaboration or to put up privacy screens, depending on the individual’s needs.

Office spaces as a whole need to be flexible in the multi-generational workforce, so when purchasing furniture consider buying portable options and also lightweight ones, so that they can be moved around the space depending on the person and/or team that is using it.

A tip for technology is to not make every desk the same with the same devices on all of them. Setting up activity stations, with each part of the office containing the required technology for the activity, will mean Millennials have all the tech they need while Boomers are not inundated with technology they might not even ever have to use.

Want to learn more about the multi-generational workforce and strategies to apply to your business? Visit Total Facilities in Sydney, March 20-21 in 2019. Register for free entry here.

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